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Congressman Bob Filner; Supercommittee Failure, Medical Marijuana Crackdown & City Pension Plan

The U.S. Capitol is seen November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
The U.S. Capitol is seen November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Congressman Bob Filner joins us to talk about the Congressional Supercommittee's failure to reach a deal, medical marijuana crackdown and the City of San Diego's pension reform plan.
GUESTBob Filner, Congressman, (D-51st District)

CAVANAUGH: Bob Filner, Democrat, representing the 51st district in San Diego, and imperial county. Congressman Filner, welcome back to the show. FILNER: Thank you very much MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, did you think this super committee actually had a chance of finding agreement on reducing the debt? FILNER: Unfortunately I never had much confidence. It was just a technique to kick the can down the road for the Congress that seems can't do very much that is rational and good for the American people. I don't know if it's a super committee. It's more like a blooper committee. I almost feel embarrassed about being a member of Congress. We have this incredible situation of debt, and we can't seem to deal with it. And we were frying to cut just a trillion-dollar out of ten years or something. And yet the two parties could not find a balanced approach to this. We're going to have have -- all the American people understand you're going to have to have real cuts, but you're going to have to have revenue increases mainly through closing tax loopholes and having everybody contribute their fair share, and yet the parties couldn't agree on that. I find that very unsettling. The Congress owes the American people a better way of doing things CAVANAUGH: For a couple of years now, San Diego economist have been telling us spa one reason our recession, our unemployment, our economy wasn't worse than it trial is in San Diego is because of defense spending. What happens to us if that spending is reduced? FILNER: Well, Congress is best at kicking the can down the road. These cuts will not take effect until 2013. That's more than a year away. We have time to retract those. The Congress give eth, it can taketh away. I'm not sure these automatic cuts will ever really come into effect. Although I believe that unlike the president or the Congress, I believe that if we ended the wars now that we're involved in, I don't think they're -- they're not very intelligent wars, they're costing us trillions of dollars down the road. We're argue over cutting hundreds of billions here. I could save a trillion if I ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's what I would do. And not cutting back on our forces or anything else, but bringing these young men and women back home. That's where the real savings is. I'm not sure why the Congress and the president aren't talking about that. We're arguing around the edges at these relatively minor programs, so I think these cuts that would hurt San Diego -- I don't think they'll ever take place, but bringing our young men home from Iraq and Afghanistan would save a tremendous amount of money. And by the way, they'd be coming back home to San Diego where they can add back to the the economy CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Now, what kind of options -- you say you don't think these automatic cuts are going to be triggered all the way out to 2013. What do you think will stop them since President Obama says he's going to veto any effort to stop them fromming triggered? FILNER: That's what he's saying now. Congress, the automatic cuts was a law. Congress can change the law. And we could pass a new law. So -- when you're dealing with issues that cross party lines, like cuts that would affect cities all across the country, you've got Democrats and Republicans. We have two Democrats and three Republicans from San Diego County. We would be together on these issues. I'm not sure that a veto could be sustained if you got to that point. But we're talking about a lifetime away in politics. There'll be lots of other things that are going on. But again, I wish NO. 1 that the Republican party would accept that there has to be a balanced approach to these situations. You cannot just cut or just have new taxes. There's gotta be a balanced approach, and what the Democrats have been talking about are closing tax loopholes, not new taxes. Getting rid of the subsidies to these oil companies, for example. You're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. Let's do something intelligent. Not only should we take a balanced approach, and Maureen, the election for president is coming up. Next year is going to be an incredibly chaotic year in many ways. Who knows what could happen in Congress? What the president is going to do. But I predict that those cuts will never take place. But I wish we would be talking about bringing our young men and women home from Iraq and Afghanistan. CAVANAUGH: You mention all the problems that the federal government is dealing with right now. In light of that, do you find it strange that federal prosecutors are taking the time now to crack down on medical marijuana in California? FILNER: Yeah, I think it's a waste of time and resources. California -- the Californians 15 years ago passed a proposition that said we would help those who are in chronic pain from cancer and other things with medical marijuana. Regulated, prescription only. And federal law prohibits that. And the Obama administration has decided to go after violators. And I think it's a waste of time. And it conflicts with our state law. I've asked Mr. Obama to stop this. We will introduce legislation soon that will give states like California who have passed such laws a waiver to this -- to the federal prohibition. But I was just this morning met a quadriplegic who has been in literally pain for 23 years. He's -- they've given him everything. Medical marijuana is the only thing that can both -- he takes just a little bit, but it alleviates the pain out a lot of the side effects. He's going to have to go to an iglift black market when these things close. I met him at a legal dispensary, but that's closing down. That's not the way we should be humane here. Let us regulate it, let us make sure nobody's profiting over illegal sales. Let us distribute it through pharmacies. We have all kinds of heavier drugs than marijuana distributed through pharmacies. Let's do that. Upon but to prosecute people for trying to alleviate their pain is just to me a waste of our time is resources. cavanaugh: One more question about this. The federal prosecutors say, yes, California had 15 years to regulate it and they didn't regulate it properly. So now we're stepping in and enacting federal raw on this. So where does it end? Where does it begin for California to be able to regulate medical marijuana in a way that does not help drug cartels and keep things legal? FILNER: Right. The City Council in San Diego has been wrestling with this. And the law allows local regulation or asks for local regulation, and the City Council tried to regulate them out of existence. I believe that we should have regulations but to allow them to exist. If I'm elected mayor of San Diego, that's what I hope we'll do. But we -- the federal government -- and I'm going to introduce legislation in this in the coming weeks if the Obama administration doesn't back down. But to give a waiver to state who is have made it legal. Why should we be prosecuting people who are using it, who have a prescription, who a card ore in a database? Let us regulate T. I'm not for legalization of marijuana. I'm for allowing medical marijuana to be prescribed and to be used. And we can do that with local regulation, and then get the federal government off this prosecution. CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Congress Bob Filner. You did point out, you ared in a candidate for mayor of San Diego. That's going to be on the June 2012 ballot, along with the mayor selection will be the initiative to eliminate guaranteed pensions for most newly hired San Diego City workers. That's on the ballot in June as well. What do you think of the pension reform initiate sniff FILNER: I'm the only, I think, candidate who has opposed this initiative. I think it's not only unfair and immoral, it's not a workable thing. It's not fair because we put new hires on a so called 401K plan, which are subject to the stock market. Soif you've seen the stock market lately and near retirement, you could have nothing. And Maureen, most people don't know, city workers do not have Social Security. So you're taking them onto a completely chaotic kind of situation without any guarantee of Social Security. More important, it doesn't work fiscally. Of the real problem we have is that we have an annual payment that come it is out of our general fund to pay our pension debt. And what this initiative does for the first decade is add to that because there's transition costs as they call it. We have to pay more money to set up a new system. It's a fraud. It doesn't work. I have a plan which not only caps pensions because the horror stories you hear about $20,050,000 collaboration collections are not the rec center worker. They're the management people who are getting fudged up salary increases. I want to refinance the debt at a lower interest reality. We will bring down our annual payments by $500 over a decade. Then we can afford to do the pot hole it is, keep the fire stations open without new taxes. I have a plan which not only works better but is fairer to the employees. And I hope we can deficient this initiative, but do the things we have to do. The employees have paid an incredible price for this. They were not responsible for what occurred. It was the politicians and the stock market. But a far more fiscally effective way, I can -- the initiative on the ballot does not save us any money. I do. CAVANAUGH: I spoke recently with one of your opponents for mayor, Carl DeMaio. He is making this pension reform initiative a cornerstone of his candidacy. Will you be making your opposition to this pension reform also a cornerstone of your candidacy? FILNER: Yeah, it's going to be unfortunately a major part of the campaign. I wish we could pivot to the real issues of the 21st century for San Diego, jobs and liveability and neighborhood power. But we're going to have to unfortunately spend a lot of time talking about that. I will probably debate Mr. Demiy over the whole city. But in his own terms, it doesn't work. He cannot guarantee any savings from this plan. He has a lot of rhetoric. But the real thing that Mr. DeMaio is doing, he says we want to be -- he wants San Diego to become the Wisconsin of the west. Following the example of the governor of Wisconsin who went after public employees, wants to privatize everything. He's attacking public employees and wants to get privatized San Diego. That's not the way we should be going. We should be celebrating those who do work for the public, treat them fairly. We want effectiveness. We want competence. We want them to be accountable. But we cannot say to them that they are worthless. That's what DeMaio wants to do, and I think we have to oppose it. CAVANAUGH: KPBS going to be hosting many candidates forums for San Diego mayor, and we're also going to be having a debate in spring of 2012. So we'll be hearing a lot more about that. Just one more thing about your mayoral campaign, and I've seen a few lists of candidates, and often you're aresed as unavailable for comment. And I'm wondering, will you be making yourself more accessible to the local media as the campaign continues? FILNER: I have been the only candidate at every debate that has occurred so far, NO. 1. Two of the candidates, Mr. DeMaio and Ms. Dumanis kid not show up for the first few. Unfortunately Mr. Fletcher's young son had an emergency, a hospital thing, so I have been the only one at all of them. So I'm the one that's available. What I objected to is some of the local media were doing things like answer yes or no, or give me a 100-word answer. I think that's demeaning to the process. If you're going to ask me about the pension, if you're going to ask me about the Chargers stadium, about Balboa Park, you can't say yes or no. These are complex issues. I have been in local government on the School Board, the City Council, Congress. I know these issues are very complex. I am not going to demean the process by saying give a simple yes or no answer. So I wish the be media would allow us to be -- have a more sort of -- let's raise the level of debate in San Diego, and not demean it with give me a simple quick answer. CAVANAUGH: Okay. You're going back to Washington after the Thanksgiving break. I want to bring us full circle here because YOU HAVE some crucial votes looming on extending unemployment befores and payroll tax cuts. We just saw grid lock in the Congress over this super committee. Will there be more grid lock? Do you see things moving in the direction so people who are unemployed can keep their benefits and that we can keep this payroll tax cut for the middle tax? FILNER: Overall, I think this grid lock is going to continue through the next election, unfortunately. Because of the way our Congress are elected, you get rewarded for being extreme on each side, whether you're Democrat or Republican. There's no reward for compromise because all of the congressional seats are fixed for one party or the other. That's a basic problem we have to come to grips with as a nation. I would hope and I would bet that we are going to extend both unemployment insurance and the payroll tax holiday that we have had. We will do it probably at the last second like we always do. Last year, we did it it right around Christmas time, if I recall. A week before they expired. And it was done in a way that people didn't have to put their votes on the record. I don't know -- so the -- I think we'll probably end up doing it that way again. It's not a good way to govern. It doesn't help anybody. Nobody can plan. But unfortunately, Congress is in this disfunctional mode. And that's the way we deal with things. I hope and pray that we pas those two pieces of legislation. The media, I notice, is saying well, we probably won't. I think we'll find a way to do that. CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you for coming in and speaking with us today. Thank you so much, Congressman Filner. FILNER: Thank you very much.

This week the Congressional Supercommittee threw in the towel. The group of 12 say they will not find an agreement on whittling down the national deficit by one point two trillion dollars and triggering automatic cuts. The lion's share of the automatic cuts come out of defense spending which is crucial to San Diego's economy.

To discuss this political failure in Washington and how it might affect San Diego is Congressman Bob Filner, Democrat, representing the 51 District in San Diego and Imperial County.